Laurentian University students and employees — along with the Greater Sudbury community in general — reacted with shock, horror and grief Monday after the university announced 69 programs are being cut.
Sudbury.com has learned that 110 faculty members and 41 support staff have lost their jobs, along with 36 administrators.
The programs that have been cut vary widely, and include such subjects as midwifery, political science, physics, Spanish, Italian, certain teacher’s education courses and labour studies, to name just a few.
This as Laurentian undergoes court-supervised restructuring under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) due to insolvency.
Danielle Drescher, who’s finishing up her second year in Italian studies at Laurentian, describes Monday as “catastrophic” and involving a lot of crying.
A native of Tillsonburg, Ont., Drescher said she decided to study Italian at Laurentian after doing a student exchange in Italy in high school.
She said she felt like her “heart was in two places” after returning to Canada, and she couldn’t speak Italian to anyone.
“It wasn’t until I found this program and I met those profs that I had a safe space to feel everything that I was,” Drescher said. “I could be the Italian and the Canadian. They understood the struggle between balancing it.”
She said she was hoping to earn her language certificates in Italian and French by the end of her time at Laurentian, and was planning to go into international relations or translation.
Laurentian has advised students in programs impacted by the cuts that plans are available to provide a “pathway to degree completion.”
Most students will be able to complete their degree program, with closed programs being “taught out” for existing students, but closed to new registrations, said information provided by Laurentian on Monday.
For a small number of students, Laurentian will assist them in transitioning to a related program.
Drescher said she hasn’t been able to get any answers as to what this will mean for her.
“They gave a vague email, and they told us to contact the faculty of arts, specifically for me, to find out more information, and I still haven’t heard anything,” Drescher said,.
“It just seems like there’s so much more that could go wrong. I don’t know if my program is going to be taught out, or if it’s just flat-out done and I have to switch programs.
“I don’t know if I want to stay at Laurentian (in that case). I don’t know what my options are, and I can’t get anybody to answer my emails, and it’s just heartbreaking, because they keep telling us they care, and yet they’re not willing to talk.”
Alexis Bouchard said she was shocked Monday to learn that her program was among those cut. Bouchard is finishing up her second year in Laurentian’s education program, studying in the primary/junior specialization.
“To me, it was a big shock, because I was not expecting it to be on the list, and I just don’t understand why it had to be the primary/junior one,” she said.
The aspiring teacher said it will be an easy switch to the junior/intermediate specialization, which would qualify her to teach Grade 4-10, but that’s not what she went to university for.
Bouchard said she aims to teach younger students, and will have to take an extra course once she’s done at Laurentian if she wants to do that.
Asked if she’d suggest attending Laurentian to younger friends, Bouchard said she would not.
“Because of the amount of debt they’re in, I think this could happen at any time again,” she said. “If they cut programs this easily the first time, I don’t see why it would be so hard for them to keep doing it.
“Personally, I would not advise someone to attend Laurentian unless it was the only option for them or unless it was the only school offering their program.”
Laurentian University Faculty Association secretary-treasurer Jean-Charles Cachon, a professor in the department of marketing and management, said he learned via a group Zoom meeting that he had lost his job. (The French-language marketing program is among the programs that have been cut).
He said he found the process disrespectful, relating how vice-president academic Marie-Josée Berger read a brief statement to those included in the call, and then left to allow more junior human resources staff deal with the situation, who either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer questions.
“I was with several older faculty, they were outraged,” he said.
Cachon describes Monday as a “wreck,” and said he hopes Laurentian will be able to “survive this.”
“It’s unconscionable that you would shut down programs at a university that every other university has, such as a math program, history, geography, physics, things like that,” he said. “These are basic subjects.”
With news about the cuts now having been handed down, LUFA members are voting on a new collective agreement today.
The contract being presented to the LUFA membership was reached through what was “construed as a mediation, but it’s not really a mediation,” Cachon said.
“There is one party that owns the whole process and that can dictate a whole slew of measures that are aimed at satisfying credit,” he said.
“It’s all oriented to the satisfaction of creditors. It completely derails the normal negotiating process between two parties … Here, everything has been preempted by the CCAA process.”
Laurentian has until April 30 to come up with a restructuring plan, and Cachon said he’s unsure what will happen if LUFA members don’t ratify the collective agreement.
“LUFA does not control the process,” he said. “We don’t know what the other side would do. Would they throw the towel in and say OK that’s the end of it? I don’t know. They control the whole process, we don’t.”